Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Settlement reached in Freshwater case!

The second to last part of the Freshwater saga is at an end. John Freshwater is not allowed to brand students! Now if only the judge presiding over the last issue, his administrative hearing on being fired, would issue his ruling we can all start to forget John Freshwater!

If you want a refresher, The Panda's Thumb's Richard Hoppe provided an amazing amount of coverage! Bottom line is John Freshwater was fired for a number of things including assault on students by burning crosses in their arms, lying to investigators, and failing to follow school board policies-- to name a few. Several suits followed, a lot of apparently foolish activity by Freshwater and his attorney, R. Kelly Hamilton, and we are nearing the end of the road. Maybe Mt Vernon, OH can also set this behind them -- providing Freshwater is not returning to the classroom.

Here is my issue. John Freshwater might not be burning crosses in any arms, which is a good thing, but is it enough? Does this man who would even think to do such a thing belong in the classroom? He has received a lot of positive attention from many Creationists who keep trying to cast this in a 'religious freedom' light. But the reality is not about religious or even academic freedom. John Freshwater is supposed to be teaching science. Instead of that he assaulted his charges, taught Creationist/intelligent Design against school policy, and then lied about it to investigators. What kind of lesson will this be telling our students if he is allowed to return to the classroom? Plus, since he has settled the other lawsuits most certainly not in his favor, what kind of message will this send to Freshwater if he is allowed back int he classroom? Sure, he might not be burning crosses, but teachers in Mt. Vernon High School will still have to be re-teaching the material supposedly covered by John Freshwater because he wasn't held responsible to failing to teach it.

That is my $.02. He had his chance and he allowed his religious convictions to get in the way of him doing his job. Would you fire a butcher who refused to cut meat for religious reasons? Would you fire an employee who refused to follow the direction of a female supervisor for religious reasons? Would you fire a Pharmacist who refused to give out Birth Control pills for religious reasons? I certainly hope so. And that is why John Freshwater deserves to lose his job. It's not that he couldn't do it, but that he refused to do it and nothing I have read on this hearing has given me any hope that he would suddenly start doing it.

I wonder if the Discovery Institute will have anything to say. So far he's about the only Intelligent Design proponent they haven't offered support. I might have to go back and double check that, but I cannot recall anything supporting Freshwater from luskin, Klinghoffer, or that bunch. If I am wrong, please pass me a link. It might be worth a follow-up post once the final hearing decision is done. Word is that might come down by the end of the year!

Monday, November 29, 2010

DI's version of Larry, Moe, and Curly!

Been a busy couple of weeks so I am a bit behind on my blog. So here is a trio of posts concerning three of my favorite Discovery Institute/Intelligent Design stooges Behe, Dembski, and the lightweight luskin.

So what has Michael Behe been up to? He's been touring Great Britain at the invite of the new Centre for Intelligent Design (CID) in Glasgow, Scotland. I posted a little about it "So there is nothing religious about ID? Part III", "That didn't take long UK Intelligent Design meet US Intelligent Design" and "It is about time we got even!" Well He had a little opinion piece published in the Guardian called "Finding Design in Nature" and it's filled with it's usual tripe. He says:

"My contention is that 'the purposeful arrangement of parts' to achieve a specific purpose is the criterion that enables us to recognise design. I argued that the conclusion of design in the bacterial flagellum and in many other biological systems is no different from discerning it for a mousetrap or a Ford Mondeo"

Here is my issue with his definition of Intelligent Design and it's with the word 'purposeful and purpose'. Exactly what does a 'purposeful arrangement of parts to achieve a purpose' say about itself? That it serves a purpose. That's it! So what exactly does that say about the origin of a cell, or any biological component? Absolutely nothing. What he is trying to do is muddy the waters and make people think that because something has a purpose it could not have possibly come about except through being arranged for that purpose. But he offers no support for having a purpose requires a intended purposeful arrangement. If you disagree then please let me know what support he provided that shows the pieces and parts were arranged IN ORDER to achieve that specific purpose. That's what he says -- but that isn't what he supports or provides evidence. I don't see it, I see his argument as conjecture with a side-order of wishful thinking. The other comment of his I find funny is:

"So what makes Intelligent Design fundamentally different from Darwinism? The Darwinian view which dominates biology holds that the design we all see in life is merely illusory and that life is essentially a blind and purposeless phenomenon. Intelligent Design claims that the design is real and demonstrable; we are left to draw our own conclusions about the implications."
The part that cracks me up is a frequent Creationist strawman. Evolution does not say 'blind and purposeless', what evolution says is that there are parts that are undirected, like Random Mutation. But when it comes to Natural Selection, there is a great deal of 'driven by environment' in the selection of the traits that offer survival and reproductive advantages. Behe only wants you to think about Evolution being blind and purposeless because if he admitted the truth, it would undercut his less-than-well-supported arguments.

But Behe isn't the only target of this little post. Recently William "Wild Bill" Dembski had a change of heart, or he lost his mind, and switched from being an OEC to a YEC, that is his frequently voiced support for an Old Earth has changed camps to join the Young Earthers. I posted about it in "Wild Bill and his sidekick Glenn Beck-erhead". Well what I apparently missed was the reason for his latest disregard for scientific evidence. Apparently those "open-minded" YEC's he works with over at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary can't possible have someone on staff that isn't toeing the ideological line. So Dembski finding himself possibly unemployed yet again (Remember when Baylor sent him home?) he quickly quickly disregarded years of OEC support to keep his job. Panda's Thumb has a lovely post about it "But it’s all about the science …". They highlighted a Dembski quote that I just have to repeat here:

“In a brief section [of his book] on Genesis 4-11, I weigh in on the Flood, raising questions about its universality, without adequate study or reflection on my part,” Dembski wrote. “Before I write on this topic again, I have much exegetical, historical, and theological work to do.”

This, in my opinion, is Dembski being Dembski and trying to skate around years of Old Earth support and trying to make it sound like his changing camps is no big deal. For a change he isn't trying to claim expertise he doesn't have. But his stating that there is 'Exegetical, Historical, and Theological' work that he needs to do is a bit foolish to me. Along with Panda's Thumb, I have to ask why isn't he going to do quite a bit of Geological work as well? But then the answer hit me. Dembski has absolutely no interest in heading down the path of science. It would again put him at odds with his employers. Someone who identifies himself as one of Dembski's students said this:

"As a student at SWBTS currently, and knowing Dr. Dembski through his writings and as my professor . . . his views are extremely conservative. Indeed, he repeatedly stated that he wanted to see theology as the "queen of the sciences" again, guiding all of our disciplines.

I think if we were honest, most of us would admit that we don't have the scientific background to really understand half of what he says. . . . If this is about "new earth" vs "old earth" being accepted Baptist orthodoxy, we are going to see many of our respected Christian scientists, mathematicians, etc. abandon our fellowship if we cannot allow for an old earth."

Division in the ranks, I hope the student covered himself or he might find himself on one side of a Dembski-ish inquisition.

Now last and, as usual, least little casey luskin. Luskin again attempts to put on a lab coat and posts on the DI news site (They call it a blog, but they do not allow any comments, so it's a news site). "Does Intelligent Design Help Science Generate New Knowledge"and here is a summary of the great work he thinks is inspired by intelligent Design:

  • ID has inspired scientists to do research which has detected high levels of complex and specified information in biology in the form of fine-tuning of protein sequences.
  • ID has inspired scientists to seek and find instances of fine-tuning of the laws and constants of physics to allow for life, leading to a variety of fine-tuning arguments including the Galactic Habitable Zone.
  • ID has inspired scientists to understand intelligence as a scientifically studyable cause of biological complexity, and to understand the types of information it generates.
  • D has inspired both experimental and theoretical research into how limitations on the ability of Darwinian evolution to evolve traits that require multiple mutations to function.
  • ID has inspired theoretical research into the information-generative powers of Darwinian searches, leading to the finding that the search abilities of Darwinian processes are limited, which has practical implications for the viability of using genetic algorithms to solve problems.
OK, that's enough. If you want to get bored you can go look at the rest of them. They are equal part obfuscation and pretty wordy pseudoscience. First of all I would like to comment on who are all these 'scientists' he claims are being inspired? Douglas D. Axe, Guillermo Gonzalez, Stephen C. Meyer, Michael Behe, William A. Dembski, Richard v. Sternberg . . .. Anyone else see a trend? These people don't need inspiration from Intelligent Design, these are fellow members of the Discovery Institute that are busy trying to market ID. Now if ID was actually an inspiration, casey, how about a list of real scientists who are inspired -- but who are not already fervent believers in ID? That would be an interesting list -- but of course it would be an empty one. The best you have been able to do is a list of 700 people, some of which are scientists, few are biologists, that think questioning Darwin's work is a good idea. the list doesn't support, nor was it inspired by ID -- even though your buds at the DI tried to make it sound that way during the Dover trial.

Of course little casey has to start off with a huge assumption
"It's important to realize that when dealing with historical sciences like neo-Darwinian evolution or intelligent design . . ."
Um, since when is 'Intelligent Design' science? Plus just what the hell is a 'historical science'? He never goes into that. he just makes his statement without any actual support and assumes it to be factual.

Do any of his comments address HOW Intelligent Design inspired all this? Or any of the open questions about Intelligent Design, like the identity of the Designer, that mythical designer that could clear this mystery up in a second -- if only there was support for the existence of the 'officially' unidentified designer.

Well of course anything casey writes needs to be subjected to the 'giggle test', that means if you can get through it without giggling, someone else wrote it for casey.

More soon because I certainly would like to comment on the counter suit by the California ScienCenter over the broken contract to show an ID film. Apparently they were 'helped' by the Discovery Institute and even little casey might get deposed. And I need to catch up and see if there is anything new on the David Coppedge case. It downed on me that I haven't heard a thing lately. After Coppedge filed his suit the DI's various mouthpieces had a flurry of posts supporting him . . . and then it tapered off to nothing! I wonder if they actually know something or they are simply being shy of supporting yet another loser.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Louisiana Politics over Science

The lovely State of Louisiana is under yet another attack on its education system, this time about its choice for Biology Textbooks. Please note that as part of a regular process a State appointed review committee has already finished and recommended several Earth Science and Biology texts. The decision by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) was delayed because of comments made about the presence of Evolution in the texts.

You might remember that something similar has happened in Texas and also South Carolina. In fact it really does parallel South Carolina (Ms. Kristin Maguire strikes) when the newly elected president of the state school board brought in two shills to make negative comments about the biology textbooks up for approval and dragged out the process for months while she held public hearings. In that case common sense and science won. In this case a panel called the 'Textbook/Media/Library Advisory Council', which even the Advocate refers to as a 'little known' panel, gets to weigh in with a recommendation. Where was this panel on all the other textbooks already approved?

The contention, voiced by members of the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF) -- drafters of the poorly named ‘Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA)’ -- is that there is too much Evolution in the textbooks presented for approval. Oh isn't that just too bad! A science textbook that presents a scientific theory is just too much for the LFF. But then when your own website says:

"It is our mission to persuasively present biblical principles in the centers of influence on issues affecting the family through research, communication and networking."
I can see why any mention of evolution makes them uncomfortable.

A couple of other responders to the issue complained about a noticeable lack of Intelligent Design! Well I certainly hope so, or Louisiana would be facing a Dover-style smack-down. Sorta like 1987 with Edwards v. Aguillard and also in 2002 when the BESE voted against the LFF's proposal to insert evolutionary disclaimers in textbooks.

Well not everyone in Louisiana is in favor of changing the textbook recommended by the original committee. The Advocate also published an opinion piece in favor of science over politics. I loved this:
"But it is the duty of the committee members not to be politicians — a couple of the members are state legislators — or representatives of public opinion. The committee members have a duty to reject intrusion of pseudo-science, such as creationism or its offshoot “intelligent design,” into science classrooms."
The comments with that article were almost all in favor of science, except for one who did the standard Creationist misrepresentation of what is a scientific theory.

Just a note, apparently the State Legislators in question are also the two who introduced the aforementioned LSEA to each of the Legislative houses. I think the cards are stacked against a quality education in Louisiana. I am not the only one concerned. One of my favorite reporters, Lauri Lebo over on Religious Dispatches, "Louisiana Citizens Horrified that there’s Evolution in Science Books" asked
"Anybody want to place a bet on what the panel will recommend?"

There may actually be some good news. Just today The Advocate reported
"A state advisory panel voted 8-4 Friday afternoon to endorse a series of high school science textbooks that have come under fire for how they describe evolution."
As expected 2 of the “no” votes were cast by Senate Education Committee Chairman Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, and House Education Committee Vice-Chairman Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe. Nevers and Hoffman were the chief sponsors of the LSEA in the Louisiana Senate and House of Representatives back in 2008.

We still need to keep an eye on this since this is only a recommendation and the actual final approval is slated for next month by the BESE. I am sure other LFF proponents will be campaigning, but hopefully with the original recommendations made by the committee who reviewed new textbooks being upheld by the Textbook/Media/Library Advisory Council will have sufficient weight. I wonder how long it will take the Discovery Institute to spin up a response -- or maybe they are still gun shy of Louisiana ever since Livingston Parish elected to go the Creationism route and avoid the bad idea known as Intelligent Design.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Do Teachers Have Free Speech?

I guess the underlying question is does anyone really have 'Free Speech'? Before answering, I want to tell you a story of sorts.

When I was in the USAF, we had what we called 'Free Speech with limitations'. It sounds weird, but think about it. According to the precepts of free speech I should be able to tell my commander to 'pound sand'. The reality is that sure I could do so, but I had to be willing to face the consequences -- which could have included jail time, discharge, fines . . .. So in reality I did not have free speech as a member of the US Military. And it made perfect sense to me -- and still does. While the idea of free speech is fine, you always have to be willing to accept the consequences. Even in the civilian world, you aren't allowed to walk into a theater and yell 'Fire!'. Oh you can do it, but there better be a fire or the consequences of the ensuing panic will fall heavily on your shoulders.

So let's take this argument back to teachers. Do teachers have free speech? Well outside of the classroom they have the same free speech we all share. But I am talking inside the classroom? Do they?

According to John Freshwater, the Mt Vernon Teacher who is central to a long running trial in which he was fired for a variety of things, including teaching Creationism in violation of the district standards. One of his points was that the district’s restrictions on his classroom behavior violated his free speech rights. So at a time when his trial(s) are winding down, the question remains, does a teacher in the performance of their duties have free speech?

Well as reported on one of my favorite blogs, Panda's Thumb, the answer is No! According to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals:

"The appellate panel in Cincinnati upheld a lower court’s ruling for the Tipp
City [Ohio] Exempted Village School District, writing that the right to free
speech “does not extend to the in-class speech of teachers in primary and
secondary schools made ‘pursuant to’ their official duties.”"
This ruling and the 'free speech with limitations' makes perfect sense to me. Teachers in primary and secondary schools face an audience who has not learned the detail about any subject to understand enough to actually filter out inappropriate materials. As a result, the impressionable nature of students at that level mean the teachers should not be given free reign to teach anything they want.

This is why there are standards, and why teachers should be held to them -- regardless of any other beliefs or opinions. Noted in the ruling itself
"Supreme Court's 2006 ruling in Garcetti v. Ceballos, which states that when
government employees speak "pursuant to their official duties," they are "not
speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes."

Again, this makes perfect sense to me. Outside of the classroom a teacher has the same freedom of speech as any other citizen of the US. But inside that classroom, in pursuant to their official duties, a teacher does not and should not! And if they try and assert that they do, they should be willing to accept the consequences of their actions. In Mr. Freshman's case, getting fired.

There was a little aside at the end of the ruling:
"The 6th Circuit also ruled that the "academic freedom" concept does not protect
curricular speech at the high-school level, because the notion was conceived and
applied in universities to protect teachers who are also researchers or
This one makes me a little concerned. I've discussed 'Academic Freedom' many times in here and I believe that High School teachers should have the same rights as college professors to introduce controversial material -- as long as such material is within the curriculum guidelines set by the school boards. The way this is worded seems to remove that arrow from high school teachers quiver and can be mis-used to avoid presenting materials simply based on the fact they are controversial. Climate change and Creationism comes to mind. Yes, they are controversial subjects, but Climate Change should be part of every Earth Science class today. Unlike Creationism, which while socially and politically controversial, is not a scientific subject and should not be protected by academic freedom policies at any level. This little additioin to the ruling might need a little more thought. Any ideas?

Monday, November 8, 2010

So what exactly is 'Junk' DNA?

Here is something I mentioned in the last post, "DI's knee-jerk anti-ID whine" and it's one of those terminology word games the less-than-honest fellows at the Discovery Institute like to use. They seem to think that scientists decades ago wrote off 'Junk DNA' as junk. It sounds good, because like their mistreatment of the words 'theory', 'belief', and 'academic freedom', all they tend to do is try and confuse folks. Now why in the world would the DI not care if people understood the truth? Because having folks know the truth is not something that will help the DI's marketing and fund raising schemes.

So what is 'Junk DNA'? Back about 40 years ago a real scientist, geneticist and evolutionary biologist Susumu Ohno, coined the term to identify portions of a genome sequence for which no discernible function had been identified. Please note it wasn't to claim that a function would never be identified, nor was it that there was no function, but that at the time "no discernible function had been identified."

Today 'Junk DNA' is considered an obsolete term because many advances over the last 40 years has identified functions for what used to fall under that label. Who still uses the term? Popular press certainly does, and so does the various Creationists who are looking to discredit real science -- and doing a pretty lousy job! I mean using a 40-year old out-of-date term is a pretty poor job of discrediting something, right?

So now let's look briefly at more of the facts, something the DI tends not to do. If actual biologists had considered large portions of a genome to be junk -- as in worthless -- who was it that made these advances in identifying functions for previously unidentified parts of a genome? Was it those hard-working Intelligent Design scientists? Anyone ever seen a hard-working ID 'Scientist'? The very few ID proponents who are actual scientists are too busy marketing to be doing any actual work.

So what is the ID proponent supposed to do? Well if you are a typical ID proponent, like those 'fellows' at the DI, you sit back on your well-funded ass and claim that each discovery by real scientists could 'hypothetically' be used as a prediction to support Intelligent Design. Of course putting the word 'hypothetically' in front of their prediction means they don't actually have to make a prediction and they can't be blamed if it doesn't come true.

In the mean time scientists -- using evolutionary theory, science, and scientific methodologies -- keep expanding our knowledge of the genome and finding many purposes for what was not identified 40 years ago. I think this identifies a cornerstone of trouble for the DI. I mean while they are busy marketing and failing to provide support for their pet ideas, science keeps pushing the boundaries of our knowledge forward and they get further and further behind the proverbial eight-ball.

Such a nice thought -- casey and friends running away from a giant eight-ball as they head toward the only shelter, labeled 'Science'. The sad thing is that unlike the DI, there won't be a lock on the door. All are welcome, providing you shed your religious-based preconceptions and are willing to work using an actual methodology. Personally I think the 8-ball would get them!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

DI's knee-jerk anti-ID whine

One of the more common posts over on the Discovery Institute 'website' are those whining about other people not 'explaining' Intelligent Design correctly. It happened yet again with "Correcting Kirk Fithzhugh's Misunderstandings About Intelligent Design".

Why is it that when anyone writes something critical of intelligent design they are pretty much guaranteed to received such a whine. What's interesting is that rarely does the DI responder address the issues raised by the writer, but spend an inordinate amount of time whining about their definition. Now if casey was fair, he would have stopped this particular line:

"It's important to note that Dr. Fitzhugh should have every right hold, publish, and discuss his views that dissent from ID in the public square and within the scientific community."
In all honesty, if he really is free to do this, casey should just slink away. But of course that never happens. The DI has to respond, because they really have nothing else. So here is my point. For years now actual scientists have been asking for the DI to . . . well let me quote Dr. Chancey, Chair of the Religious Studies Department at SMU again:
"They are only asking ID proponents to be transparent in their agenda, accurate about their representations of scholarship, and willing to play by the same rules of peer review and quality control that legitimate scholars and scientists around the world follow every day."
If the Discovery Institute would only support their ideas with actual work, this whole definitional issue would disappear. But no! Since ID proponents keep moving the goal posts, and since they also have both their official definitions -- and personal definitions (as evidenced when Behe identified the designer, unofficially -- and he is not the only one to do so) it is no wonder that people rarely agree with the definition of the moment as published by the DI-mouthpiece-on-call who respond to the many articles critical of ID.

What is casey's specific whine, he is still playing the 'official' line that ID doesn't address the supernatural. Since when? Certainly not when Behe had to expand the definition of science to include supernatural causation in order to include ID. Not when Johnson wrote the Wedge strategy document. Not during presentations where multiple ID proponents identified the Christian God as the intelligent designer. So little casey's whine is just that, an incessant noise conveying no actual information.

Now the rest of his little post, where his quotes one of his personal heros, Steven C. Meyer. Well early in his post he asks a question
"Would they [criticisms of ID] cut against his own Darwinian viewpoint, if they were applied fairly?"
But then he doesn't bother to assess current science, scientific methodology, not even scientific philosophy. So once again he starts a point that should summarize one of his issues with what was said critiquing ID, and then he heads off in a completely different direction and nit-picks one other comment on the testability of ID. Fine, if that's what he wants to play, let's look at the other part of his whine.
"His criterion for testability is that "When causal conditions of type x occur, effects of type y will occur." ID easily meets this standard. When intelligent agents act, high levels of CSI are generated. "
Does it really? Has the existence of intelligent agents been supported by any evidence? Has CSI (Complex and Specified Information) been supported by any evidence? The answer to both questions is a resounding 'No they have not'. So let me get this straight, casey claims that ID meets the testability criterion by invoking a non-existent agent who uses a 'level' of a non-existent concept. Gee, what could possibly be wrong with that?

Well casey finishes this particular bit of nastiness with a change to a different tactic, co-opting evidence.
"Predictions of Design (Hypothesis):

(1) Natural structures will be found that contain many parts arranged in intricate patterns that perform a specific function (i.e., complex and specified information).
(2) Forms containing large amounts of novel information will appear in the fossil record suddenly and without similar precursors.
(3) Convergence will occur routinely. That is, genes and other functional parts will be re-used in different and unrelated organisms.
(4) Much so-called "junk DNA" will turn out to perform valuable functions."

OK, (1) without his little parenthetical addition is something discovered and well explained with evolutionary theory. Of course he had to add the '(i.e., complex and specified information)' as if this is a actual scientific concept rather than ID proponent wishful thinking.

(2) is a lie. Forms have appeared in the fossil record and most were preceded by similar precursors. In fact as we discover more fossils, many of those that didn't appear to have a precursor do now. This is just a typical 'God-of-the-gaps' argument that doesn't stand the test of time well. I know someone reading this will think about the 'Cambrian Explosion', however while a 'explosion' that lasted 50-70 million years might not be extremely explosive, many of the forms that the DI likes to claim 'appeared' have clear precursors from the Ediacaran Period.

(3) More already understood part of evolutionary theory.

(4) Scientists rarely called parts of a genome to which we didn't have an identified purpose 'junk', as in useless or unused. Scientists have been adding functionality to many parts of various genomes not previously identified. Tell me one example of an ID 'scientist' actually filling one of these perceived gaps? I don't know of one and I don't plan on holding my breath.

See what I mean, casey is trying to co-opt known science for supporting ID -- and yet offers nothing in addition. How do any of these hypothetical predictions actually support ID? What in the world makes him think that just because he thinks they will be successful predictions, they would in fact support ID?

casey also tried to change tactics as well. Remember He accused Kirk Fithzhugh of setting a standard that could not be applied to evolutionary theory -- and yet tried to grab existing evidence for evolution and claiming they would also support ID -- without explaining how or why they would do so. More fertilizer from casey and his buds. Color me unimpressed!